Raising Steam (by Terry Pratchett)

I’ve been reading Discworld books by the late Terry Pratchett for over twenty years now. When my sons lived at home, we would buy the hardback versions as soon as they were released so that we could read them aloud together. Recently I’ve waited for paperback editions - so although this was first published at the end of 2013, I didn’t have this on my shelves until one of my sons gave me the paperback for Christmas last year.

When I started reading ‘Raising Steam’, Terry Pratchett was still alive, albeit suffering from a form of early dementia. It took me several weeks to complete, as I went away for a fortnight in the middle of reading it, and only read a few pages each night. As usual, with Pratchett’s works, there are no chapters; this means that there are no obvious stopping places - but it also meant that, sometimes, I read only a page or two before falling asleep at night.

The book is about the invention of railways on the Discworld. As ever, the culture is a kind of pre-industrial revolution society with a wonderful mixture of fantasy and realism. It's a world emerging, sometimes kicking and screaming, into a technological era without any idea of what it will mean long-term.

In this particular story, Dick Simnel, a young and geeky engineer, has managed to harness the power of steam, and has produced an engine which he calls ‘Iron Girder’. He is convinced that this is something big: an invention that will make a phenomenal difference to daily life, even only that fresh fish from the coast can more quickly be delivered inland, to Ankh Morpork.

The story, like the railway lines which are gradually built around the Disc, takes several twists and turns. I was pleased that it includes several favourite characters from previous books such as Moist von Lipwig, Sam Vimes, and the Patrician, Lord Vetinari. The book stands alone, so it’s not strictly necessary to have read anything else in the series, but I would recommend doing so. There are many references to other characters and storylines, and a lot would be lost if this was your first foray into Pratchett's writing.

While this book is not as laugh-aloud amusing as, say, ‘Moving Pictures’, and not quite such a confusing mixture of plots as some of the earlier books, it was still classic Discworld, with much to think about as well as a great deal that was entertaining.

There is, as ever, a wonderful mixture of cultures, and plot-lines including wars amongst the Dwarfs, who are in revolution against their current King. There’s also ongoing argument about the acceptance of the Goblins; a subject covered more extensively in 'Snuff', the previous book in the series.  Alongside the topic of racism, and geekiness, and the clash between capitalism and ingenuity, there’s a strong feminist thread running through the book.

I don’t know how Pratchett managed to keep coming up with new ideas for forty Discworld books, each complete in itself; but once again, he managed it. 

Highly recommended to fans of the series, or to anyone who’s read and enjoyed some of the earlier books.

In print in both hardback and paperback form, and also available for the Kindle.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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